'Once on This Island' coming to ECSU

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Mon., Mar. 25, 2013
Brittany Gould (left) and Olivia Beaullan pose for some publicity photos for Eastern Connecticut State University's upcoming production of 'Once on This Island.' Photos by Melanie Savage.
Brittany Gould (left) and Olivia Beaullan pose for some publicity photos for Eastern Connecticut State University's upcoming production of 'Once on This Island.' Photos by Melanie Savage.

Imna Arroyo is one of several female faculty members at Eastern Connecticut State University collaborating on the upcoming production of “Once on This Island.” Arroyo, with an MFA from Yale University, is a professor of visual arts at Eastern and a printmaker, painter, sculptor and installation artist. A focus of her research - which has included trips to Ghana, Nigeria, Cuba and other locations - has been the traditions of African people brought with them to the Americas.

“I was called to collaborate on this project because the theme deals with gods and goddesses,” said Arroyo. The show, based on a fictional island in the Caribbean (e.g. Haiti, the French Antilles), involves four gods/goddesses in a “story of hope, struggle and rebirth,” according to a press release.

Arroyo will be contributing to the production in several ways, including providing batik fabrics for the sets. She is also constructing handmade paper and beeswax busts to be used to represent the gods/goddesses. Her busts, to be suspended from the ceiling and lit from within, will be adorned with symbolic characters derived from the African tradition.

“See the crossed crocodiles,” said Arroyo, pointing to a symbol on the bust representing Papa Ge, or the Demon of Death. Depicting perpendicular reptiles joined at the stomach, the Akan crossed crocodiles symbol, originating in Ghana, represents a crossroads, competing interests, and/or unity in diversity.

Choreographer and director Alycia Bright Holland is an adjunct professor in the performing arts at Eastern.  Bright Holland holds an MFA in dance and specializes in West African and modern dance. She was drawn to dance, “because it’s a way for me to experience different cultures,” she said. Bright Holland said that Zimbabwe, Guinea and Ghana have all contributed heavily to her repertoire. Her expertise will bring to life the beat of the calypso-based score through “unique West African dance forms,” according to the press release.

Also contributing to the production is theater adjunct Anya Sokolovskaya, who is designing the island-inspired costumes. Sokolovskaya said that many of the pieces used have been provided by Bright Holland, Arroyo and other faculty members. Sokolovskaya hasn't had to do a lot of sewing for the project. "It's mostly been a matter of collecting costumes, creating a peasant look and style," she said.

Co-musical directors Jan Jungden and Mark Makipuro, guest artists, will assist in bringing the "timeless tale of the prince and the pauper to life through the pulsating beat of the calypso-based score,” according to the press release.

Set designs are by Kristen Morgan, assistant professor of theatre, with Arroyo’s assistance. New faculty member Emily Riggs, assistant professor of music, as vocal coach, “assists in bringing a powerful Patois voice to the play,” reads the release. And Bright Holland said that Elena Tapia, a professor in the English department, has served as the Creole Patois dialect coach.

“So it’s kind of an all-female collaborative,” said Bright Holland.

“This is the first time that the visual arts department has collaborated with the dramatic arts department in this way,” said Arroyo. “It’s a different way for me to look at my work, so I’m very excited.”

“Once on This Island” will include a cast of 25. “That’s a very large cast for us,” said Bright Holland. The show is described in the press release as “a lyrical love story of two island people brought together and torn apart by fortune and fate.” With original book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, “Once On This Island” was first produced in 1990 at Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan and moved to Broadway’s Booth Theatre for a run of almost 500 performances.

The show runs April 18 through 24 at Eastern’s Harry Hope Theatre (ground floor of Shafer Hall, corner of Valley and High Streets, Willimantic). Shows are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 4 p.m.; Tuesday through Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and groups of 10 or more; $10 for Eastern faculty, staff, and senior citizens; $12 for the general public. Reserve tickets by calling the Harry Hope Theatre box office at 860-465-5123.

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